Few situations tend to bring about as many strong feelings, often banding adult children together against parent, as when your widowed, aging mom or dad decides to remarry—especially after a relatively short period of time since the death of your other parent.
It’s natural that your initial reaction to such news may be a negative one, but I’m here today to offer advice on how to move forward without fracturing your lifelong relationship with a parent who has otherwise been a source of love and support to you and yours.
Before you and your sibling(s) say or do something you’ll regret, here are my 6 suggestions for learning not only to make the most of the situation, but to do so while making sure your fears and concerns are still being heard:
1. Offer up congratulatory sentiments, even if you’re feeling less than celebratory. Give yourself time to react privately to any negative feelings you may have. Trust me, there is likely nothing you can say, no threat you can make, that will undo or alter the plans ahead, so you may as well get on board (or at least pretend to).
2. Just because a person is feeling happiness does not mean that he or she isn’t also feeling grief. One of these emotions does not exclude the other. Your mom or dad is not attempting to disrespect the parent who has passed, but is instead trying to find joy and companionship for the limited time still stretching ahead. In fact, wanting to remarry quickly is a direct sign of just how happy and fulfilling your parents’ relationship really was. The surviving parent is eager to experience the joys of marriage once more.
3. With a smile on your face, email or print a list of important pre-wedding to dos, then help ensure that each item listed gets accomplished. Tasks should not only include, “guest list,” “order invitations,” etc., but also “meet with estate planner and or accountant.”
Let the professionals tend to those angst-inducing topics such as financial history, credit reports, pre-nuptial agreements, etc. Arrange for a meeting with an elder-care lawyer, just for good measure.
4. Seek perspective on your own with the help of a professional, if need be. Dramatic changes are ahead for your family and possibly even your future finances, and you likely will have no say in these decisions. Your love for your parent should not waver—even if you truly believe that he or she is making the wrong decision and may get hurt in the end. (Do you remember when you were a teenager and insisted on making your own mistakes?)
5. Be an active participant in your mom or dad’s festivities by arranging a get together with both the bride and the groom’s extended family. Remember that the other family may be experiencing the same doubts as yours. Keep the gathering upbeat and positive. Who knows? You may even find an unexpected kinship.
6. Attend the wedding, wearing a smile.
Change is hard on everyone. It breeds feelings of uncertainty.
All we can control is the way we act as we move forward.
If I can help you and your family as you navigate your own sea of change, please get in touch.
All the best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.